There is an astounding amount of disinformation surrounding Texas Legislature’s election integrity bills. Among the many mischaracterizations, two stand out: claims of racism buttressed by fabricated history, and the objections to letting poll watchers do their jobs.
Let’s start with that fabricated history. Texas House Bill 6 wisely quoted the Texas Constitution for the Legislature’s authority to regulate elections and its responsibility to “detect and punish fraud and preserve the purity of the ballot box.” The left pounced, alleging that this phrase is coded Jim Crow language. The promoted video of a representative making this claim on the House floor has received over 3 million views on Twitter.
But fortunately, there is more to the Internet than Twitter and we can easily find that this criticism not just wrong, it is anti-historical. The phrase “purity of the ballot box” pre-dated the Jim Crow era, appearing in print as early as 1831. More recently, liberal icon Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmun noted, “Clearly, for me, the State does have a profound interest in the purity of the ballot box and in an informed electorate and is entitled to take appropriate steps to assure those ends.” No credible person would consider Justice Blackmun a racist or suggest that he was sending dog whistles to rile up hordes of racist voters.
A lot of the additional malarky concerns poll watchers. Texas’ election integrity bills do not create new all-powerful, minority-crushing poll watchers. This attack is even less serious than “purity of the ballot box.”
While the Dallas Morning News reported that “The House bill approved last week would empower partisan poll watchers,” but no proposed bill changes the responsibilities of poll watchers. Their powers, confined to observing election workers and reporting, remain the same.
Poll watchers have an important role in our election process. Poll watchers are the public’s eyes and ears at the polling place. They are there not to watch the voters, but to watch the process and report any chicanery to the proper authorities. That’s it. Some states, such as Hawaii, go so far as to require poll watchers to be present when counting ballots. Poll watchers strengthen elections by watching the process and ensuring the election process is fair.
Poll watchers are not unique to Texas. Almost every state has provisions for poll watchers. Most people have voted in a location where a poll watcher was present and probably did not even know they were there.
Texas’ bills codify the commonsense notion that poll watchers must not be denied entry to the polling place or the central counting facility where the ballots are brought to be counted. Nor can they be shuffled to a place where they cannot observe the process. In other words, a crooked election worker cannot order the poll watcher to step outside while the worker cheats. These provisions are in direct response to complaints that election workers were attempting to do just that (examples from Gillespie, Dallas, and Travis counties).
Texas poll watchers are appointed by campaigns and political parties—they’re partisan. This is not unique, even if critics claim otherwise. Partisan poll watchers are the norm. New York, for example, only allows partisan poll watchers. No non-partisans allowed. Biases are disclosed and both parties are present. This is a feature, not a bug. Partisan poll watchers watch each other along with the process. This prevents partisan misbehavior such as voter intimidation or electioneering. You can bet a poll watcher will report if the opposite watcher is violating the rules.
That deterrence works. There is no evidence of widespread (or any) intimidation by official poll watchers in Texas. The only evidence of bad behavior concerning poll watchers is them being forced out of the polling place or into places where they cannot observe the process. And this is what the elections bills address.
Texas’ election integrity bills are vital to safeguarding elections. The left’s claims of racism are merely a smokescreen to kill the bills.